Leaders, officials in New York for hurricane pledging conference

Caribbean leaders and officials were in New York this week for a major international pledging conference aimed at raising more than $3 billion to help rebuild several islands nations that were pulverized by back-to-back Category 5 hurricanes this season the 15-nation bloc said Monday.

The leaders of Dominica, St. Lucia, Antigua and Barbuda, the British Virgin Islands, the Turks and Caicos Islands and Dutch St. Maarten attended the one-day meeting at United Nations headquarters in New York Tuesday, alongside officials from the U.S., Britain, the European Union other Western donor nations. Multilateral agencies such as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the Caribbean Development Bank were also in the city for the conference. Technical officials met Monday.

The bloc is currently chaired by Grenadian leader Keith Mitchell. He and the others read formal statements detailing the needs of the affected countries before settling down to talks with attendees. The United Nations Development Program is co-hosting the conference, the first major one since the storms battered the islands almost two months ago.

Bloc secretary-general Irwin LaRocque, said Monday that the conference will “seek to mobilize international support for rebuilding CARICOM member states devastated by hurricanes Irma and Maria and to help the wider region improve its resilience.” The BVI and the other European dependencies are associate members of the bloc.

Several leaders, including Dominica’s Roosevelt Skerrit have said that the time has come to review the way homes, businesses and state infrastructure are constructed as storms come every year and as countries are forced to spend millions rebuilding systems that were destroyed as recently as last season.

Experts have talked about running television and electricity cables underground rather than overhead, building power plants in underground sheltered areas and finding better ways of making mobile phone towers more resilient to incoming storms, as most are flattened every time, leaving islands without communications.

“Building back better is an essential part of this effort,” LaRocque said. “We invite the world to support the Caribbean countries through global action on climate. We must all act now before it is too late.”

Among the independent CARICOM states, Barbuda, sister island of Antigua, had more than 95 percent of all buildings damaged or destroyed. The same occurred on nearby Dominica. Barbuda’s entire population of approximately 1,600 had to relocated to Antigua. Millions are now being sought to rebuild the island. The 2017 storm season officially ends and the end of November.

He said recovery costs are estimated at approximately $3 billion, and rebuilding infrastructure and homes to withstand storms, which appear to be getting stronger each year, is essential.

The region has received millions in food and other aid since the two storms swept through the Caribbean, also causing severe damage in Haiti and Cuba in particular. The European Investment Bank and the Caribbean Development Bank have already set up an emergency post-disaster and reconstruction loan financing initiative to help the region recover. The two have so far come up with $144 million, but officials said hundreds of millions more are needed before the onset of the 2018 season next June.